A Play Forest for Middle Schoolers

Legacy Parks Foundation just opened the new Baker Creek Play Forest, creating the first play space in our region designed specifically to encourage increased physical activity among middle school aged children.

The Play Forest is located in the heart of Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness just three miles from downtown, and is connected by trail to the adjacent Baker Creek Preserve and South Doyle Middle School. With large structures for climbing, sliding, swinging and socializing tucked between towering trees, the Play Forest meets the requests of local students who participated in the research used to design the space.

Legacy Parks was awarded a two-phase grant from the Trinity Health Foundation of East Tennessee, which funded the research, planning and construction of the Play Forest. The elements of the park are not only fun and challenging for the target age group, but are also intended to combat obesity and inactivity for the age range at which the greatest decline in physical activity occurs.

A recent Knox County Schools study showed that27 percent of students in South Knoxville are overweight or obese, putting them at risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Studies also show that creating an activity-friendly environment is an effective way to reverse the alarming trend and consequences of obesity.

Bryant Research interviewed students, teachers and parents from South Doyle Middle School to get their opinions about elements they would like to see in the play area. Ross/Fowler applied the research to the play space design, choosing structures that reflect the students’ desire to climb, swing and gather. The Knox County Health Department will help evaluate theuse and effectiveness of the Play Forest, assessing any measurable health changes in students and families, especially those in the related community.

“This is such an exciting opportunity to create an outdoor activity space for the age group that doesn’t often have a safe yet exciting place to play outside,” said Carol Evans, executive director of Legacy Parks Foundation. “We are thrilled to add another great place for kids and their families to get out and play while further expanding Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness.”

The Play Forest is easily accessible to South Knoxville students, their families and the surrounding neighborhoods. Along with a higher rate of health risks, South Knoxville also has fewer accessible park facilities and less support for physical activity than the county as a whole. Features of the Play Forest help fill that void with plenty of space to run and jump, traditional and web net swings, a stacked log structure for climbing, a tall winding slide, a council-ring-style bench area and trails between structures for walking and biking.

The Play Forest being connected via trail with the rest of Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness gives kids the chance to progress through different levels of challenge presented by the adventure play area just across Taylor Road and the growing 50-mile network of multi-use trails.

Legacy Parks partnered with Knox County Schools, the Knox County Health Department, Ross/Fowler, Great Schools Partnership, Bryant Research, City of Knoxville, HGTV and many volunteers to bring the Play Forest to fruition.